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on 11 February 2009
Alain de Botton probes deeply into our thoughts and ideas about the buildings around us with amazing clarity. He puts words to feelings you might have had in the back of your mind but ignored because you didn't know whether they could be expressed. When you read his words you feel enlightened and grateful for the experience. You go back into the world with a more refined set of tools to process it with.
Most books on architecture are about history and appreciation of aesthetic and cultural details. His book cuts right through that layer. What we find beautiful is the promise of an intelligent kind of happiness. A home should be a setting that reminds us of our deepest, most genuine values, our concern for others and for the environment. What we search for in architecture is not so far from what we search for in a friend.
How wonderful to have these truths subtly and intricately revealed to us as a way of counteracting all the information about fashion and design, pumped into our brains on a daily basis. There are beautiful black and white photos and engravings throughout the book to illustrate his observations.
I loved this book, read it slowly and savoured it and will definitely be reading it again. If people of de Botton's calibre, with such depth, humour and insight, were running the world there would be hope for the human race.
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on 15 June 2006
This book can be considered a well balanced guide to the major philosophical and theoretical debates which affect every architect-in-training in forming their own opinions and which have been debated over the past centuries. Everything from "what is archtitecture" downwards.

Contains just enough of each point of view to enable ideas to be formed, or to guide further research, without telling you what to think. Its a composition rather than a manifesto. Every ten pages or so there is a gem of a quote. And just as you start thinking, "but what does that mean for..." you turn the page and there it is, with quotes and references and everything you need to start making up your own mind.

If as an undergrad you're only likely to read one book on theory this year, and want to avoid becoming a specialist on [insert obscure german author your tutor wants an essay on], read this for the whole picture. Its really accessibly written too. And has pictures (good heavens!). And big margins.
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on 23 April 2006
Botton has often flirted dangerously with a reputation for pretension, fortunately assuaged by his fresh combination of genuine erudition and earthy humour, plus his extraordinarily lucid written style. However, after the wonderfully fluffy 'Art of Travel', his humour deserted him with 'Status Anxiety' , a book which managed to frivolously embroider basic assumptions with faux-sophisticated connections with art and economics.

'The Architecture of Happiness' happily restores Botton's status of benign self-help guru. Still lacking in the humour of earlier works, this volume makes some genuinely profound statements on virtue and beauty as applied to our exteriors and interiors. It is still written in Botton's academic, philanthropic tone and is a real page-turner too.

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on 9 January 2010
An interesting read, but rather than rock any architectural boats it is firmly on the modern architects side.

I suspect the title is specifically chosen to lure in those who wonder why beauty is such an anathema to modern architecture and artists. Alain de Botton seems to be happy to fall into the modern illness of searching for difference rather than asthetics.

Each chapter one gets lifted up by some relevation of why we think the way we do about Architecture only to be flattened by the assurance that we can't have such and such in our day and age.

It is surely not the problem of architecture that it can't produce great modern edifices but that it can't produce humane structures for the everyday person without resort to pastiche or brutalism. At the heart of this is the egotism of architecture which sees it self as an artform rather than a servant to humanity.
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on 18 July 2010
De Botton's book was enjoyable to read, though I never really found any resolution to the questions he posed. Sometimes, he seems to contradict himself. Throughout the beginning of the book, de Botton champions many elements of Classical architecture (in the process castigates--deservedly in my opinion--Le Courbusier's architecture and methods, pp. 54-67). Later in the book, de Botton tells the reader what structures are "successful": terribly modern edifices are praised which seems counter-intuitive based on the first half of the book. On p. 199, "Like Kahn's Yale Center, Herzog and de Meuron's house achieves its effect by weaving a pattern of beauty from two aesthetic strands-meaning, also, two varieties of happiness..." He tells us that we admire bridges as "a certain kind of beauty is bound up with our admiration for strength, for man-made objects which can withstand the life-destroying forces of heat, cold, gravity or wind...we see beauty in sea defences that shrug off the waves which batter them, and in bolts, rivets, cables, beams and buttresses...(p. 204).

De Botton's work was interesting until p. 166 when he writes about psychological mechanisms and our appreciation of architecture. The train quickly derails and many untenable claims are made. I expected a bit more from a trained philosopher (he holds a Master's Degree in Philosophy, as I understand). I wonder why de Botton decided to confront this topic with a superficial knowledge of architecture; he relies on meandering philosophical arguments to explain what beauty is (though the arguments are wholly unconvincing and certainly not logical). Most of the claims are based on appeals to the reader's emotions. The book is 267 pages of text, much of which is simple prose (though entertaining at times).

Overall the effort is interesting at best, dilettantish at worst.
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on 4 October 2009
Being an architect student, i was looking to expand my knowledge on architecture and also wanted to see this from a philosopher's point of view. I found that De Botton is very knowledgeable in this subject and has a good understanding of architecture. However some chapter's were more useful than others, a very easy read and very interesting. But i read this after i read "Space and the Architect" by Herman Hertzberger, which is much more helpful to architecture students and everyone in general
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on 9 May 2009
For fans of Alain de Botton's, this book will be just the kind of delightful stuff we've come to expect from him - intelligent, well written stuff and ideas with which one cannot help but agree... extremely useful book even if all you'd want is to understand what beauty is, not only in houses or architecture but also in seemingly non-related areas like art, fashion, or everyday life.

However, it's a great shame that all the pictures are black & white (I have the hardcover edition and I assume the paperback is the same). I don't believe the reasons for this could have been aesthetic, ie how could a painting benefit from being reproduced in black & white? so it must have been done to keep the cost down, and it shows... be prepared for serious and frustrated disappointment because the book is a lot about those particular paintings and works of art. Otherwise it would have gotten 5 stars from me, great content.
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on 13 January 2008
Considering the significance of architecture, the author remarks that beautiful houses falter as guarantors of happiness and can also be accused of failing to improve the characters of those who live in them and proceeds by explaining why this is so. Karl Friedrich Schinkel for example stated that to turn something useful, practical, and functional into something beautiful is the architect's duty. Architecture should thus be the decoration of construction as distinguished from mere building. The architects of the Modernist movement, like all their predecessors, wanted their houses to speak and express emotions. Indeed buildings speak. They speak of democracy or aristocracy, openness or arrogance, welcome or threat, sympathy for the future or a hankering for the past.
Interestingly enough what we search for in a work of architecture is not so far from what we search for in a friend because the objects we describe as beautiful art versions of the people we love. The buildings we admire are those which extol values we think are worthwhile: through their materials, shapes and colours they express qualities such as friendliness, kindness, subtlety, strength and intelligence. As Stendhal wrote, "Beauty is the promise of happiness."
We are vulnerable to what the spaces we inhabit are saying. In a drab hotel room our optimism and sense of purpose are liable to drain away. We look to our buildings to hold us, like a kind of psychological mould, to a helpful vision of ourselves. We need a home in the psychological sense as much as we need a home in the physical sense: to compensate for vulnerability, we need a refuge.
We may feel joy at the architectural perfection we see before us and at the same time melancholy at an awareness of how seldom we are sufficiently blessed to encounter anything of its kind. And sadness is conducive to receptivity: our downhearted moments provide architecture and art with their best openings because it is at such times that our hunger for their ideal qualities is at its height.
Such thoughts and many other are contained in this study of architecture and make for a valuable and interesting read.
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on 24 March 2015
This is definitely one of his best books. Yet again he approaches his subject with a learned clarity and keeps his subject fascinating whilst pulling out plenty of useful and enlightening insights that allow you to see things in a different and refreshing way. He explores a number of different styles from the classical era right up to today from many parts of the world, ranging from masterpiece to eyesore. He explains the power and psychology of architecture and how it can and does influence our outlook. Like most of his work this is refreshing, nicely written and highly accessible.
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on 21 September 2014
I brought this book as I have a general reader’s interest in architecture and I was interested in Alain de Botton’s spin on the subject, i.e. the relationship between architecture and how we feel. I was also rather taken by the production quality of this book, i.e. good quality thick paper, plenty of photographs of attractive and well known buildings and a typeface that was thoughtfully laid out. The result is handsome book, a pleasure to the eyes as much as to read. Admittedly those details shouldn’t be that important in deciding to buy a book or not but I appreciated to touch of applying architectural concerns to the book itself.

As for de Botton’s take on the subject, the book covers arguments relating to the power of architecture to make us happy, why we cannot agree, or even define, what makes a building beautiful, why our tastes might/do change over time, the virtues of good architecture and ultimately why we owe it to ourselves to properly consider what new proposed developments should be like.

In terms of happiness I think de Botton’s position is similar to that of Bertrand Russell position on Education, i.e. a good education might be wasted on a dull mind, but a bad education is the ruin of anyone. Similarly, de Botton acknowledges that if we are suffering from a poor disposition, architecture is unlikely to have much of an effect; however should we find ourselves in an oppressive environment, or even one that promotes poor psychological states, it will be of little surprise we are in a poor disposition.

Despite the books many virtues I did find part 3 of the book unconvincing. This part focuses on how buildings and objects speak to us. Taking the example of a Barbara Hepworth sculpture refer to by de Botton, One person may look upon it and see a family portrait, another may see some nicely shaped stones sacked. The explanation of why this is the case lies in the difference between the two viewers i.e. their sensitivity to this sculpture and not the sculpture itself. To put it bluntly there is no language of objects, objects do not sign. The problem I see here is that we follow de Botton’s position (i.e. object do sign) then he is arguing for architecture of familiarity (i.e. distinctly twee) as the objects that are most widely to be “understood”/appreciated are those with which we are most familiar. However all the subsequent parts of this book – especially the last part, provide a strong argument in favour of widening our viewpoint and our appreciation of things, to build things that are good/inspiring because we owe it to ourselves to do better than to settle for the offerings put before us by developers more concerned with profit than the benefits of good architecture. Consequently this part if the book does seem inconsistent with the rest.

De Botton also offers an explanation for what we find attractive and for the choices we make when we decide to use particular materials or build in a particular way, and why this may change over time, linking it to our psychological concerns. Again I feel that de Botton’s argument to be somewhat unconvincing, however I can see that de Botton is arguing our psychology informs our tastes and ultimately de Botton is able to develop his thought throughout the rest of this book to shed light on why we don’t agree on what is beautiful anymore, or why there is not one preferred form of architecture and why perhaps we not need to lose any sleep over these problems. The psychological approach de Botton takes does much to make sense of why some sort of consensus can be reached on what is a beautiful building, why it is so hard to build beautiful cities (if we knew how to do so we wouldn’t need heritage sites) and to recognise that architectural failures are as much a result of a poor understanding of psychology as anything else. This was defiantly an interesting and valuable read.
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